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Gatwick to Tanji

Better late than never


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As expected, the hotel room was way too hot overnight (it is a common problem with Premier Inns) and I didn't sleep very well. The benefit of this is that I will then hopefully sleep on the plane, making the flight go quicker.

After dropping off the car at the valet parking, we head for the Titan check in desk. It is a number of years since we travelled on a charter flight, and I am concerned about my hand luggage which is full of camera equipment and borderline as far as the weight limit goes. To mitigate this, David is carrying one of my lenses in his backpack, and another in his coat pocket, whereas I slip all the batteries in my pocket and wear one of the cameras around my neck with yet another lens on it.

As it turns out, all this worry has been for nothing – they don't even give the hand luggage a second glance, yet alone weigh it.

Wondertree Restaurant

Duty Free purchase comes next, then breakfast.

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David's full English

I order pancakes with bacon and syrup.
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Flight

Boarding is simple and straight forward and we strike lucky with a row to ourselves.

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As we settle in, ready to relax for the next six-and-a-half hours, our hearts sink a little when the captain comes on the intercom with an announcement: “Things don't seem to be going too well for us this morning; we have developed a technical fault and have to go back to the stand to get an engineer to check it out.”

Oh dear.

One hour later, he updates us: “We're ready to go, air traffic control is ready, but Eurocontrol is not ready”.

At this point he switches the engine off to save fuel, which of course means no A/C. The cabin becomes hotter and hotter and hotter as people's patience wears thinner and thinner. After some (uncomfortable) time, he reassures us: “I am aware that you guys are getting rather warm back there...” and switches the power back on.

More time passes before the next announcement: “A restricted no-fly zone has cropped up in the south of France, so our flight path needs re-routing.”

More waiting time.

That sorted, we are informed that “we need a courier to push us out from the stand and they are all at the other side of the airport”.

At this point the lady across the aisle from us becomes very irate, shouting obscenities, calling the captain a liar, refusing to switch her phone off etc. While I understand that nerves are getting frayed and tempers short, that sort of outburst is not doing her – or us – any favours.

We finally take off two hours and twenty minutes late. What should have been a 6 and a half hour flight, now becomes nearly nine hours of having to sit in this tin can.

The flight itself is reasonably painless after all that, with quite good food (spicy chicken noodles and a very nice chocolate and orange mousse). Wine, of course, has to be bought – and paid for – separately. I guess we have been spoilt over the years with scheduled long haul flight where everything is included.

Banjul Airport

The modern terminal building has been added since we were last here; in fact, it is not fully completed yet. We are last in the queue for immigration, but it doesn't matter as the luggage has only just started to arrive when we get out there.

Some things have never changed since we were here last, 23 years ago: porters wishing to change the British coins they have been given as tips into notes which they are then able to convert into Dalasi, the local currency. I am happy to oblige.

My bag arrives and we watch everyone else collect theirs, one after the other. Still no sign of David's. Some bags go round and round, again and again, but David's is not one of them. More and more people are leaving the baggage area and heading for the customs and exit. Still no sign of David's bag. With only a handful of passengers still remaining around the carousel, all apparently in possession of their luggage, the belt stops. Without David's case. After a few tense moments, I spot it, partly hidden by the curtain at the entrance to the belt, stopping just short of actually coming into the baggage area. Phew.

Tanji Bird Lodge

As expected, we have a private minibus transfer to the hotel. Our accommodation for the first five days is in a very small eco-lodge with just eight rooms, and it soon becomes apparent that we are the only tourists staying here for those nights.

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The lodge is all very open plan, with a thatch-covered bar and tables in amongst the trees as well as on a ridge overlooking the ocean for eating and drinking.

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A meandering path leads us to the four simple brick huts housing two rooms in each.

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There is no A/C in the room, but it has been designed with a high domed ceiling to help disperse the heat, and with slatted windows, the sea breezes are allowed to flow through.

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The inside is basic but adequate, featuring a narrow double bed which has been lovingly strewn with flower petals. In all the years we've travelled and all the hotels we've stayed in, this is a first for us. We have had petals on the bed before, of course, but never has it spelled out our name – such a special and personal touch.

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Domed ceiling

The bathroom has a shower and toilet but no running hot water (we were fully aware of that when we booked), and we cannot seem to manage to get any water out of the shower hose, only through the tap. Cold bucket showers it is then. In this heat, that can be quite refreshing, and is an excellent way to preserve water.

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Bird Baths

But first things first: bird watching. The lodge is set inside Tanji Bird Reserve, and have enticed birds to visit the grounds by providing a series of bowls and pools filled with water. To encourage human visitors, chairs and benches are available for us to sit on as we watch our feathered friends come to bathe and drink; with strategically placed tables for our drinks too of course.

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David's preferred way to spot birds

We see a surprising amount of birds in the short time we are here this afternoon (by the time we get settled in to the room, we only have around half an hour left of daylight). They come to bathe and drink, or maybe just hang around with their mates. Here is a small selection:

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Blue Spotted Wood Dove

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Blackcap Babblers

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Red Eyed Dove

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Village Weavers

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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Black Necked Weaver and Grey Headed Bristlebill

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Laughing Dove

Dinner

As is the Howard tradition, we enjoy a Duty Free tipple in the room before going down to the restaurant for dinner. We find it surprisingly chilly, with a cool wind, to the point of wearing a fleece. We never expected that in The Gambia; in fact, while packing we contemplated whether or not to bring any type of warm clothing at all. Just as well we did.

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As the sun goes down, some interesting clouds appear, later taking on a muted pink hue from the setting sun.

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With us being the only two guests in the lodge this evening, catering is down to what they have in the kitchen, which is fish and chicken.

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We choose butter fish, which is thankfully de-boned and absolutely delicious. I have mine with rice while David orders chips.

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With a glass or two of the local beer, of course. While the main religion here in The Gambia is Islam, they are a secular nation and quite liberal – the country even has its own brewery.

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Being situated inside a bird reserve, there is no light pollution here. Walking back to the room in almost complete darkness, we are glad to see someone has been to the room and switched our outside light on while we were eating dinner. How thoughtful.

We have only had a couple of beers each this evening, but David really struggles to get the key in the lock. s we are fiddling, a knock from behind the door makes me jump – there is someone in our room! Then it dawns on us: this is not our room. It seems we have tried to enter the room where the manager was sleeping. Oops. Sheepishly we continue to our own room and make a mental note of leaving the outside light on tomorrow night.

Being used to a super-king sized bed at home, we worry that the four-foot bed in this place is going to feel rather cramped. Surprisingly, it doesn't, but it is somewhat chilly this evening so we reluctantly grab the duvet from the cupboard and put on the bed. While the bed is narrow, the duvet is miniscule. It is basically a single quilt inside a double cover. It looks like we will have to cuddle up all night, then.

Once the lights are out, the room is pitch black. The sort of blackness that you cannot imagine without having experienced somewhere with absolutely no light whatsoever. Your eyes never get used to it. You cannot see anything. At all. I make sure my torch is within groping distance, and drift off to sleep.

The Gambia Experience featuring Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Posted by Grete Howard 10:59 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds hotel flight airport breakfast dinner birding dove weaver gatwick titan bird_watching delay valet_parking check_in bajul charter_flight wondertree tanji tanji_bird_lodge bird-bath babbler robin_chat bristlebill butter_fish narrow_bed Comments (4)

Ngorongoro Crater Day 1 Part 2 - lion cubs and more

An afternoon in the caldera


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Ngoitoktok Springs

Probably the most popular picnic area within the Ngorongororo Crater, there are always a lot of people here, but it is a large enough area to find a spot to get away from the crowds.

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Here you can see the crowds

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And here we are away from them all

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Not only is this place popular with humans, but we also share our breakfast with a number of different birds, who come for the rich pickings where guests drop food on the ground. They have become quite tame and will perch on your car, or sit on the ground below your chair, looking up with pleading eyes.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Little Egret

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Black Kite

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Great White Pelicans

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Egyptian Geese

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Village Weaver

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Blacksmith Plover

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Superb Starling

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Southern Masked Weaver

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Little Egrets

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Southern Masked Weaver

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Black Kite

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Litle Bee Eaters

I could stay here for ages, just watching life unfold around me – there is always something going on. We see zebra, elephants and wildebeest wandering through the outskirts of the site, and hippo frolic in the small lake, as well as numerous bird species as these pictures, all taken during our lunch stop, show.

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An elephant saunters by

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Wildebeest and Zebra

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Hippo in the lake

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Hippo poo floats to the surface of the water

I love seeing pelicans flying

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Eventually we have to tear ourselves away from this beautiful place to explore some other parts of the crater.

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A lone wildebeest

Grey Crowned Cranes

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Kori Bustard

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Common Fiscal Shrike

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Zebra

Secretary Bird

Malisa spots a few feathers sticking up from between the thorns on the top of the acacia tree and stops the car.

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She looks like she has stuck her talons in an electric socket ~ or maybe she is just shocked to see us.

Initially there is not much to see, but we hang around just in case she decides she is going to fly away, or at least maybe stand up.

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Our patience is rewarded as after a while she decides to rearrange her nest a little.

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Hippos

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As well as the ones we see in the water, there are a few hippos out on land too.

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Eurasian Avocet

I have never before noticed avocets eating the same way as spoonbills – pushing their long beak from side to side in the water.

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Lions

We come across a small dinner party, with two females and four cubs feasting on the carcass of a young zebra.

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We stay for a while (although not as invited guests, more like gatecrashers), watching their eating habits and interactions.

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This little lad may have bitten more than he can chew.

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He's not really getting anywhere with the zebra's head.

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He tries a different tactic.

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But eventually he gives up.

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Gradually, one by one, they've had their fill of fresh meat and wander off for a siesta.

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Or maybe just a poo.

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Children are such messy eaters.

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Mum needs cleaning too.

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“Play with me mum!”

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Time for us to move on and “see what else nature has to offer” (Malisa's favourite saying).

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Blacksmith Lapwing

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Hadada Ibis

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Superb Starling

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Tree Pipit

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Marabou Stork

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Hildebrand Starling, often confused with the Superb Starling. The difference is that the Superb has a white line between the blue and the orange areas on the chest and a yellow eye against the Hildebrand's red.

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Yellow Billed Stork

When we leave the crater by the usual Lerai Ascent Road, but at the top turn left down a private road rather than right towards the hotel on our planned itinerary, we realise that this is another one of Tillya's surprises. Tillya, the owner of Calabash Adventures, is constantly trying to exceed his customers' expectations and we often find ourselves upgraded to a different lodge than the one we thought we were staying in. Today is obviously going to be one of those occasions.

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View of the crater from near the top of the Lerai Ascent Road

Ang'Ata Nyati Camp

The whole team of staff appear to have come out to greet us as we arrive at a small clearing. One by one they introduce themselves by name, handing us a very welcome wet flannel and a soft drink. The complexities and rules of the camp are explained to us and we are shown to the tents. The camp is very similar to mobile camps we have stayed in previously, but I am told that this is a permanent tented camp (rather than a 'mobile' camp that moves every few months, following the annual migration of animals), having recently relocated to the Nyati Special Camp Site from the other side of the crater. A small and intimate affair, the camp has a mere eight tents and tonight we have the 'palace' to ourselves as we are the only guests staying.

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A local 'askari' (security guard/escort) takes us to our 'room', a basic tent with a wooden floor, large double bed, hanging space and a rudimentary en suite bathroom. Hot water is brought to the shower by request, in a bucket. I understand from their website that you are given 25 litres of hot water plus the same amount of cold. Mixing the two, the water temperature is just right, and if used sparingly, ample for two people to shower. As always in an area where water is a scarce commodity, I wet my body, then turn off the water while I wash and apply shampoo. Water back on again, rinse and repeat with conditioner.

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We meet up with Malisa in the cosy and comfortable lounge/dining room for dinner. The food is superb and the staff is wonderful.

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40th wedding anniversary celebrations

There was no doubt in Lyn and Chris' mind where they wanted to celebrate their special milestone, and I feel very honoured that they asked us to share this celebration with them.

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When David's phone rings in the middle of dinner, he is surprised that he has a signal and worried that it may be bad news from home. The concern soon turns to indignation when he realises it is just an advert!

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The camp staff make such a fuss of us, and after dinner the whole crew come out, bringing a cake and a complimentary bottle of wine, while walking around the table singing and dancing. We don't have the heart to tell them that the anniversary is not for another couple of days.

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Originally released as a record back in 1982 by a Kenyan band called Them Mushrooms, the Jambo Bwana song is now adopted all over East Africa and sung to tourists at every celebration. Each lodge have their own version incorporating local details (such as the name of the camp) and I am sure they make up some of it as they go along, especially as I distinctly hear Malisa's name being mentioned in the words. These are the lyrics ~ and translation ~ to the main part of the song.

Jambo, jambo bwana (Hello, hello boss)
Habari gani (How are you)
Nzuri Sana (Very good)
Wageni, wakaribishwa (Welcome visitors)
Ang'Ata Nyeti (Ang'Ata Nyeti ~ name of camp)
Hakuna Matata (No worries)
Okenda Serengeti (Going to Serengeti)
Hakuna matata (No worries)
Okenda Ngorongoro (Going to Ngorongoro)
Hakuna matata (No worries)
Okenda Tarangire (Going to Tarangire)
Hakuna matata (No worries)
]Jambo, jambo bwana (Hello, hello boss)
Habari gani (How are you)
Nzuri Sana (Very good)
Wageni, wakaribishwa (Welcome visitors)
Ang'Ata Nyeti (Ang'Ata Nyeti ~ name of camp)
Hakuna Matata (No worries)

After dinner we gather around the 'Bush TV' (the local expression for a camp fire), where we have a sing song, introduce the locals to the joys of toasting marshmallows, and attempt (very unsuccessfully – I blame the Duty Free rum and four bottles of wine) to photograph the awesome night sky. After a fabulous day in the crater, we have a phenomenal evening in an extraordinary setting.

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When we get back to our tent we find the staff have been in for 'turn-back service' and there are a couple of much appreciated hot water bottles in our bed. At an altitude of 2310 metres, this area can get bitterly cold overnight. Still on a high from the earlier revelry (not to mention the copious amount of alcohol), I slip into a deep sleep, oblivious to the cold and any noises from the surrounding jungle.

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Yet another marvellous day organised by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel elephant adventure kite tent camp africa safari tanzania camping zebra wine lions hippo drunk lion_cubs stars cranes egret stork ibis pelican avocet geese celebration glamping starling weaver wildebeest shrike astro east_africa ngorongoro_crater bird_watching bustard game_drive camp_fire plover secretary_bird lapwing guineafowl pipit ngrongoro ngoitoktok birdning bee_eaters game_viewing lions_eating ang@ata_nyati_camp mobile_tented_camp nyati jambo_bwana song_and_dance toasting_marshmallows bush_tv 40th_anniversary hot_water_bottle Comments (5)

São Tomé city tour and Monte Café

An easy day


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

I set the alarm for 06:30 this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds before breakfast. I am not disappointed.

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Yellow-billed kite

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Village Weaver

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São Tomé Prinia

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Yellow Fronted Canary

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Yellow Billed Kite

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Village Weaver

Four 'lifers' (new species to us) before breakfast on the first day! I also spot a couple of cute little lizards.

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Breakfast

Forte de São Sebastião

The old San Sebastian Fort has now been turned into a museum.

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The square outside is home to statues depicting the first settlers in São Tomé and Principe.

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São Tomé & Principe were both uninhabited prior to colonisation by the Portuguese in 1470 who came in search of land to grow sugar and as a base for trade with mainland Africa. São Tomé, being right on the equator and more than wet enough, fitted the bill perfectly. Slaves were brought over as forced labourers from Congo and Angola on the African coast to work the plantations. The first successful settlement was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown and by the mid-16th century the islands were Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

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Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were 'undesirables' sent from Portugal, mostly Jews, a great number of whom soon died.

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By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centred at Elmina in Ghana. The interesting little museum chronicles the history of the country, but unfortunately photography is not permitted inside most of the rooms in the fort, so you will just have to make do with some external shots from the courtyard.

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Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years as a result of competition from the West Indies, and São Tomé was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

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In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced to São Tomé. Large plantations (known as roças), mostly owned by Portuguese companies, sprung up all over the islands. Soon São Tomé became the world's largest producer of cocoa, with 800 of these plantations, and although this is no longer the case (and so many of the roças lie in ruins), cocoa remains the country's most important crop.

The second room in the museum shows examples of the different types of cocoa beans (and there was I thinking a cocoa bean was a cocoa bean). The plant was originally brought from Portugal as an ornamental plant, and remained so until someone said: “You're wasting your money, this plant grows so well here you should start a plantation”. Experts were imported from other Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique and Angola, and the rest is history.

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Other rooms are devoted to Catholicism, the President, the Flag, dining room, culture room (including voodoo paraphernalia and mannequins in various traditional costumes) and a gallery of old pictures from the city.

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By far the most emotional and poignant of all the exhibitions, is the Massacre Room. I find most of the pictures too distressing to look at, yet again despairing at man's inhumanity to man.

By the time we get to the 'turtle room', my back is giving me a lot of pain. I had hoped the pain would be gone by this morning after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, but not so; it is getting worse and worse.

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São Tomé is home to five different species of turtles, and much education work is taking place to ensure their continuing conservation.

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I had no idea Leatherback Turtles could grow that big!

Climbing onto the roof is proving to be quite a task because of my painful back. It is worth it for the view though.

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The graves of some 'important people' of a bygone age.

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Catedral de São Tomé

The 16th century cathedral is the oldest on the island and is reputed to be the first Catholic church to be built in an African country.

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The original building was constructed from wood, but the church was rebuilt in a more durable material - concrete - in the 17th century.

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As a place of worship, it is popular, especially for Sunday mass, when the pews are full.

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Damaged by fire during a revolt in 1975, the church was repaired from donations.

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Beautiful relics from the Portuguese era.

Parliament Building

Photographing this building is not permitted, with armed guards posted outside. Despite my experience in 2011 when I was chased down the road by one such guard after taking a picture of a bank in Algiers, I risk a covert shot from a distance.

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Driving by the market and later past the popularly named 'Think Square' where Sãotoméans gather to work out a survival strategy when they have no money (unemployment sits at 70%), we head out of town and up into the hills. I am pleasantly surprised at the condition of the road: there is some sizeable areas of tarmac between the potholes. The first settlement of any size we reach is Trindade, the second biggest city in São Tomé, with 45,000 inhabitants. It was here that a rebellion took place in 1953, where hundreds of native Creoles were killed or captured and tortured to death (known as the Batepá massacre). Later their bodies were thrown in the sea, like animals. "Throw this shit into the sea to avoid troubles," the Portuguese governor was quoted as saying. A memorial has been built to mark the spot and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

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Roça Monte Café

One of the largest coffee plantation on the island, Monte Café has now been turned into a museum offering a tour of the coffee production process.

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At 600m above sea level, the air is considerably cooler here than in town, and the climate is ideal for growing Arabica coffee.

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We are invited up the stairs of one of the old warehouses, to walk through the exhibitions with a Portuguese-speaking guide, and Agostinho as a translator. Here the men toiled the plantations while the women worked in the factory.

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I am in agony with my back now, and seek out a chair on the balcony after the first couple of rooms, especially as photography is not permitted inside the museum.

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Alei Coffe Shop

Despite taking a double dose of painkillers, my back is still going into spasms, unfortunately marring my enjoyment of the excellent lunch.

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Ceviche with marlin, passionfruit, onion and cucumber

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Red snapper with plantain, breadfruit and rice. The green stuff is described as a 'lusoa sauce' and is really quite nice. I have been unable to ascertain what it is in English - maybe the green tops of sweet potato.

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David tries the locally brewed beer, Rosema, which comes in unmarked bottles without a label.

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Passionfruit cheesecake

Passionfruit is grown in abundance here on São Tomé, and I am intrigued by the size of them. I had no idea there was more than one type of passionfruit.

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Miramar Hotel

With my back being so painful, we return to the hotel a little earlier than planned, where I have a short siesta and feel some better afterwards.

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Like last night, we wander onto the terrace for a drink outside before dinner. Tonight we choose some Portuguese Vinho Verde, which goes down very nicely.

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Dinner

I am assuming the hotel is not full this evening, as we are the only diners at 19:30. Tonight's special is chicken stroganoff, and we both choose that. It is very good.

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Coconut jelly on a biscuit base

The end of another interesting day in São Tomé, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:45 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged turtles fish fort museum cathedral africa birding parliament coffee trindade pain slavery ceviche defence canary plantations weaver massacre demonstrations cocoa bird_watching roca red_snapper undiscovered_destinations sao_tome batepa_massacre miramar_hotel prinia endemic_birds forte_de_são_sebastião sugar_plantations roca_monte_café vinho_verde passionfruit back_pain Comments (4)

Tarangire Part I

Elephants galore


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It is still dark when we leave the lodge this morning, just as it has been every single morning since we arrived here. Today is our last day in Tanzania, so it won't be long before we are able to have a lie-in once we get home.

There is no sign of the lion from last night around the hotel grounds this morning, but we do see a lot of giraffe close to the lodge today, as well as a couple of waterbuck.

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The weather is still pretty murky by the time we reach the Tarangire National Park gates, hence the quality (graininess) of the first handful of photos.

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These girls belong to a harem. Male impala sometimes have as many as 50 or so females in his harem, here there are nowhere near that many. Where there is an impala harem, there is usually a bachelor herd nearby waiting for the polygamous husband to retire (or maybe just tire, with so many females to service) so that they can move in.

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Tarangire is famous for its incredible bird life, especially at this time of year, with nearly 500 species recorded in the park. We see quite a few this morning, including a few species that are new to us (known as a lifer - a new addition to the life list)

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Ashy Starling

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White Winged Widow Bird (a lifer)

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Brown Parrot

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah (another lifer)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (above) construct elaborate and fanciful hanging nests (below)

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Magpie Shrike

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A rather wet and bedraggled Wattled Starling

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We're having to put the roof up, down, up, down this morning as the showers come and go at various intervals. I think you could call the weather changeable.

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White Browed Coucal

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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While the mongooses we saw earlier were quite some distance away, these are really close by the road, where an abandoned termite mound has been converted into social housing for a family on mongooses.

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As we stay to observe them for a while, small, furry heads pop out of various orifices in the mound, including some cute babies.

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And angry little not-so-cute adults.

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You can distinguish the Common Waterbuck from the other species found here, the Defassa Waterbuck, by the white markings on its rump, commonly referred to as the toilet seat.

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Tarangire National Park is famous for its huge herds of elephants, so we are quite surprised to not have seen any yet this morning, just damage caused by these large animals as they passed through.

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Not long afterwards, when we are on on our way to the Matete Picnic Site for breakfast, we see a lone elephant, as if on cue.

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Then a large bachelor herd appears.

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Time for morning ablutions, in the form of a little dust bath.

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The mood suddenly turns nasty, with an unfriendly mob marching angrily towards us. Malisa proves that he is just as capable (and safe) a driver backwards, as he has to quickly reverse the car out of the way of the bullies. Never argue with an angry elephant.

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It's not all anger management issues this morning, however, there's a bit of bonding session going on here with two teenage brothers butting against each other.

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When they have finished showering each other with affection, they walk right past out car, so close I could reach out and touch them. I have to really restrain myself not to.

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I feel so incredibly privileged to be here so close to these majestic giants, watching them go about their daily lives and be party to their family interactions, I almost cry with happiness.

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All around us are elephants, in every direction we look. I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening. To think I was only complaining a couple of minutes ago that we hadn't seen any elephants yet.

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More family snuggles. This is like reality TV but with animals. Much more interesting.

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For some reason this next picture reminds me of Colonel Hathi in the Jungle Book cartoon.

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I have heard of 'pink elephants', but never 'red'. These eles have obviously been rolling in the mud. Or maybe it's the latest must-have face mask.

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She has a young baby with her, probably around four months old. We can only just see the top of his back over the long grass.

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In places the grass is shorter so we can see him better.

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On the other side of the car is an even younger baby, this one is less than 2 weeks old. All together now: “awwwww”

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Look at the difference in size!

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We leave the elephants behind (pun intended) and (yet again) try to make our way towards the picnic site. This could take a while, depending on what we see on the way.

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We finally make it for breakfast, to a completely empty picnic site. This place has changed beyond all recognition since we were first here ten years ago: back then there was one squalid long-drop toilet. Now there is a very modern facilities block with clean flushable toilets, lockable doors, water, soap and toilet paper.

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Check out my next blog entry for more animal encounters with Calabash Adventures, the best safari
operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain travel elephants africa safari tanzania parrot eagle picnic giraffe tarangire impala waterbuck starling weaver mongoose shrike barbet bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller mongooses calabash_adventures maramboi coucal best_safari_operator widow_bird impala_harem spurfowl guineafowl guinea_fowl go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete matete_picnic_site picnic_breakfast Comments (4)

Naabi Hill - Ngorongoro Crater - Maramboi

Ngorongoro revisited


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we approach the Ngorongoro Crater Descent Road, we see some Maasai with their donkeys collecting firewood. Unlike here in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, there are no human settlements within Serengeti, so these are the first locals we've seen for a while (other than staff involved in the tourist industry of course).

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There is a one-way system for entering and exiting the crater, and from the Seneto Descent Road we get a good view down over the crater floor. It doesn't look too busy this afternoon – in fact I can only see one car in this part of the crater. It looks like it is dusty though.

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The heavily forested crater walls rise steeply from the crater floor – 610 metres to be exact – with the descent road gently traversing the sides as shown in the photo below.

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I really don't know how he does it. “There's a Yellow Mantled Widow Bird”. Malisa stops the car and points to a mangled bush. At first glance all we can see is intertwining branches, leaves and the odd yellow flower. Well, one of those yellow flowers isn't a yellow flower, it's a patch on a black bird. Apparently.

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I zoom my lens right in (as seen above) and can just about make out an outline; it isn't until I get home on my PC and give the picture a severe crop that I can see the bird properly. Yet Malisa spots - and identifies - this while safely and comfortably negotiating a steep gravel track. Extremely admirable!

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This one is a little easier to spot, even I can see this one with the naked eye.

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Male (above) and female (below)

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There are now at least two other cars in the crater, and they are just about to meet on a dusty track.

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Heading for the long grass with a small pond for a spot of fishing.

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Another large bird on the hunt for some lunch

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About a week ago when we were here the first time on this trip, we saw a rhino reasonably up close and were thrilled to bits as on all previous visits they have been spotted in the far, far distance only. Imagine our surprise when we see one equally close again this afternoon!

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This one's on the move and heading directly towards us!

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He stops to sniff the air for a while. They do say we should all “make time to smell the flowers”.

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Unless they taste nice. Then you should just eat them. The flowers that is, not the rhinos.

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When he is just about 100 metres away from us, he changes his mind and turns the other direction.

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Still eating of course.

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It is time for us to have some lunch, and more importantly, to use the local facilities, so we head for the picnic site.

I wonder if the road workers get danger money working here in the crater?

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Compared with last week, Ngoitoktok picnic site is extremely quiet today.

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Many of the old bull elephants in the crater have enormous tusks such as this guy.

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We see three more elephants in the distance, plus a couple of lions.

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There are a lot of birds around in the crater this afternoon, a few of which are new to us. Being a 'list girl' I always enjoy adding a new species to my life list.

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Egyptian Geese

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Fan Tailed Widow Bird

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Several Grey Crowned Cranes flying around.

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Long Toed Lapwing

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Sacred Ibis

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Hadada Ibis

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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The Wattled Starling gets its name from the black wattles (there's a surprise) which are only found in breeding males.

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Red Knobbed Coot

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As we climb out of the crater, I can feel the altitude affecting my chest, and I star coughing uncontrollably to the point of almost blacking out.

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The crater walls are near vertical in places, with trees somehow still clinging on to the slope.

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The view from the top back over the crater is nothing short of spectacular!

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I sleep the entire journey onwards to the gate with sheer exhaustion from the incessant coughing. Thankfully, we are now going down to a lower altitude for the rest of the trip.

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While Malisa signs us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we amuse ourselves by watching the baboons. Unfortunately these cheeky animals have become used to stealing food stuff from the large trucks coming from the markets, and as a result are now very aggressive every time they see a vehicle.

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These little monkeys have found some spilt rice on the ground.

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I can't stop myself dropping off to sleep in the car for the next part of the journey either, but fortunately I wake up as the sun starts to set and we approach our accommodation for the night.

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As soon as we enter the large grounds of this super tented camp, we spot a few impala in the near-darkness.

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The low light capabilities of this camera (Canon EOS 5D IV), is phenomenal. For my photographer friends, this picture was taken at ISO 16,000 with no noise reduction applied.

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One of the things I really like about Maramboi, is all the animals found in its grounds at any time of day or night. This is our third time staying here, and we have not been disappointed yet.

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Banded Mongoose

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Impala with the rooms behind.

When we check in I ask for a room nearest the restaurant / reception / car park so that I don't have to walk any further than absolutely necessary. They oblige and give us the closest room. That will help my poor lungs tremendously.

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As I said earlier, the grounds of the Maramboi are full of wild animals, and you are strictly forbidden to walk around after dark on your own. We call an askari (Maasai guard) to escort us from the room to dinner. Acting fairly agitated, he shines his torch on the next but one room from us. Two eyes look back at us from the bushes just by the entrance to the room. "Lion" says the askari.

You can see an arrow pointing to the location of the lion below, on a picture taken last year. In fact that was our room last year.

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There is a buzz of nervousness at dinner, with our waitress admitting to being “very scared”. There is only us and one other couple staying, and I get the feeling the staff can't wait to get away.

As it is an almost clear night, I want to take some photos of the stars this evening. For safety reasons the manager is understandably not willing to switch any lights off for me apart from those far out by the swimming pool, so I have to made do with what I've got and embrace the floodlit of trees as part of my picture.

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So, so many stars, with a few clouds partly obscuring the Milky Way

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As you can see from the arrow in the picture below, the lion is not exactly far away. The guards are constantly shining their torches across the grass, making sure they know where the lion is at all times.

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While photographing the stars, I can hear a car starting up, and later the askari who walks us to the room tells us that they 'lost' the lion temporarily, but found him when they went out with the Land Rover. He's killed a warthog and is tucking into his supper, so we can all relax a little for a while.

At the end of another fabulous day on safari with Calabash Adventures, I want to say thank you to Malisa, our wonderful guide, for not just being a fantastic driver, but also for looking after me while I have been feeling so poorly on this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged night sunset travel africa safari tanzania zebra donkeys lion rhino maasai giraffe baboons crane stars serengeti black_rhino ngorongoro heron ibis impala starling weaver warthog astro ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard milky_way night_shots calabash_adventures best_safari_company maramboi seneto naabi_hill olive_baboon widow_bird wattled_starling lapwing lodoare_gate maramboi_tented_camp astro_photography Comments (6)

Ndutu Day II Part II (Wedding Anniversary)

Finally, some cats


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We're ready to roll for another afternoon of exciting adventures in the African wilderness.

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Dik diks mate for life, so more often than not you find two together or even three, like here with their offspring.

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“Sit down and close your window!” comes the urgent call from Malisa as we find ourselves right in the middle of a swarm of bees flying from one nest to another. Phew, that could have been nasty!

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We see three different vultures (Lappet Faced, African White backed and Hooded) sitting in a tree and wonder if there is a kill somewhere.

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It's mid-afternoon and we still haven't seen any cats today.

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Cute little baby, some 3-4 months old. Later we see an adult wildebeest, on his own, limping badly. I cannot help to think he will be someone's dinner tonight.

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There's a lot of dust around this afternoon and I am seriously worried about my lungs. They do not feel good. I am therefore grateful when the skies start getting darker and more threatening.

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With a strange light, dark clouds and rain on the horizon; it looks like we are in for some inclement weather.

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I am hoping for a dramatic thunder storm.

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No such luck though. The rain is somewhat localised, and fortunately not in our locale.

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But I guess it is best to start heading towards the camp.

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Before long, the skies are blue with pretty pink clouds. Talk about changeable!

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Time is getting on, the light is fading fast, and we have given up all hope of seeing any big cats today, which means these two lions are a real bonus.

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Not that they do much, but enough to get a few nice photos to round the day off nicely.

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She is greatly bothered by flies, and tries to wipe them off with her paw.

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It doesn't last long, however.

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Time is moving on, the lions are tired and we really should be getting back to camp.

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On the way we see a lone buffalo in the sunset.

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And then another.

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One of the things I love about a safari in Africa is that we get well away from any light pollution, making the stars all the more visible at night. I am very surprised, and delighted, that we are able to see any stars at all this evening after all the thick, dark clouds that covered the sky just a couple of hours ago.

The downside of being in the wilderness, of course, is the fact that we are surrounded by wild and dangerous animals, which means I can't stray far from the lodge and the armed askari guards.

Setting up my tripod just outside the entrance to the lodge means I do get some stray light from behind, but we can still see the milky way quite clearly.

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As I said in the very first blog post from this trip, the reason for being here in our favourite part of the world at this time, is to celebrate forty years of married bliss.

We brought with us a bottle of bubbly from the UK, which Nina, the waiter, kindly opens for us at dinner.

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I clear my throat, bring out a scroll tied with red ribbon, unroll it and begin to read:

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Ode to marriage

The year was 1974
In Wembley near London Town
A boy wooed a girl with flowers and more
He wanted to settle down

The girl was from Norway, her English not good
He loved her accent and eyes
Always a gentleman, just as he should
Much better than other guys

She was so young and impressed by his car
Just 16 years old, in her prime
He chatted her up in the Century bar
Into his Lotus she'd climb

Education finished, she left her school
To Norway she must return
If he let her go, he would be a fool
He knew he would always yearn

He told her he loved her and would she be his?
She said “yes” straight away
They must stay together, she surely agrees
“Let's get married, without delay”

Friday the 13th the engagement took place
But the very next day she left
He jacked in his job and took up the chase
To Norway, feeling bereft

Friday the 13th, such a special date
“Let's see when the next one is”
The following year was the estimate
To enter married bliss

By 1977 they wed
In Oslo Town Hall it was
From the bright lights of London to Bristol they fled
In a fancy car of course

They easily settled as husband and wife
Both working as hard as they could
To pay for their major passion in life
Exploring the neighbourhood

Their travels took them to near and far
A never-ending quest
From Antarctica, to China to Zanzibar
They were totally obsessed

The years quickly passed amid work and fun
And travels to faraway lands
A number of bucket list items were done
Scuba, canoeing, and boarding on sands

Work in IT and banking, a means to an end
For funding the thrill-seekers' aim
Rafting and driving a tank round the bend
Quite the daredevils they became

Zeppelin, bobsleigh and bamboo raft
Plus driving a Formula Ford
They sailed and quad-biked and often laughed
Even bungy, but never bored

DIY, cars and cycling too
Always busy, he loved to be
Participating in local voodoo
He even learned to ski

Her passions are cooking and photography
And travelling as much as she can
Sociable, smiling and very carefree
She idolises her man

Old age has crept up, with health not so great
But they're only as young as they feel
Troubles are easy when shared with your mate
Which was always part of the deal

To mark this occasion, where should they be?
A favourite haunt for sure
Tanzania of course, for a safari
Such a wonderful place to explore

As they sit here tonight, celebrating their love
Memories plenty to look back on
They thank their stars and heavens above
For the 40 years that have gone

It's 40 years since she gave him her heart
And she loves him more than ever
She said she's be with him “till death us do part”
And even then it's forever

By the time I am finished there is not a dry eye in the house, even the waiter has to wipe away a tear.

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As was the case at lunch, a selection of several dishes are brought to our table: stir fried chicken, curried vegetables, lentils, potatoes and rice, preceded by soup and followed by fresh fruit.

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Malisa also has a surprise up his sleeve: he has arranged for the lodge to make us a cake. The entire staff of the lodge accompany it is brought out, singing traditional Tanzanian songs and keeping the rhythm by banging kitchen utensils. Love it!

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Who would have thought, all those years ago, that this young couple would be here in the African wilderness forty years later, drinking champagne and eating celebration cake.

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Calabash Adventures really are the best, thank you so much for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:09 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys rain elephants cake clouds africa safari tanzania celebrations birding lions vultures weaver wildebeest bird_watching bustard ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lake_masek_tented_camp dik_dik wedding_anniversary champage mousebird stormy_weather Comments (4)

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